At last the year-long campaign to choose Massachusetts’s next Governor is over. Charlie Baker has won by two percent, a lead of 40,000 votes out of 2,040,000 cast (with 99% of precincts reporting.
It was closer than many expected, a bit closer than even I had anticipated. Though the loser, Martha Coakley, had seemed, as recently as a month ago, to have almost no campaign at all, during the time since, a campaign was put together for her, and she, somehow, found her voice, one that voters could actually connect to.
There was enthusiasm in her campaign, and several constituencies, and a tactic that made sense: concentrate on the 37 percent of Massachusetts voters who are Democrats.
If a Massachusetts statewide candidate can win the votes of at least 90 percent of our Democrats, he or she is almost sure to win, because only 12 percent of our voters are Republican. To beat a candidate winning 90 percent of Democrats, an opponent would have to win almost all the Republicans and at least 70 percent of Independents. That hardly ever happens.
Nor was it enough for Coakley to concentrate on Democrats. She had to give them a completely, almost only, Democratic agenda and she had to get them to actually come to the polls and vote. Thus the campaign’s embrace of the Democratic party’s most loyal interests – unions, left-wing advocacy groups, immigrants, and communities of color.
That concentrating her campaign on these very polarizing interests might isolate her from the state’s moderate, unorganized majority was a risk she had to take, and did take. After all, without them fully committed, she had no campaign at all, because she was – and remained – very unpopulkar with her own party. At the Democratic convention to choose a nominee, she won only 23 percent of delegate votes. She barely finished ahead of the third place candidate.
Coakley’s passionate army of ideologues, unions, and communities of color then targeted several cities in which many similar types of Democrats live : Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Framingham Worcester, Springfied, Brockton, Lowell, New Bedford, Chelsea, Lawrence. She carried them all, and except in Boston, won them by a larger margin than she was accorded in her legendary US Senate loss to Scott Brown in 2010.
Yet if Coakley succeeded in assembling a real campaign and in meeting her targets, so did Baker. Between the two, there was no comparison : Baker was by far the stronger, more convincing candidate on almost all levels. And if Coakley’s campaign was about the Democratic Party, Baker’s was about the entire state and its needs.
Baker concentrated on winning independent voters, disaffected Democrats, and as many city voters as he could talk to. It worked. That Baker was able tol defeat the well-organized, ideological Coakley campaign was almost entirely his personal achievement. Yes, Baker had a strong boiler-room operation and more canvassers than any Massachusetts Republican campaign has deployed in at least 40 years; but “Team Baker” was no match for Coakley’s team, in numbers or intensity. Yet he did win.
Baker targeted several regions and surpassed Scott Brown’s 2010 margins in all. In Boston he won 31 percent; Brown took 27. In the Western suburbs of Boston south of Route 2, Baker topped Brown’s 2010 results by four to eight points. Baker campaigned all year long as the “North Shore candidate,” and he won the area by 15 points, five points better than Brown in 2010. He won big victories in Worcester County and all along the South Shore.
Baker appears to have won independents by 32 to 17 and captured the votes of 18 percent of Democrats. Those are numbers a Massachusetts Republican cannot fall short of and expect to win.
It was just barely big and wide enough to top Coakley’s own improvements. Just as the state’s long tradition of electing Governors independent of the Legislature’s dominant Democrats tops, but barely, our voters’ preference for the Democratic party over the Republican. It was a close-run thing but a decisive one. The Deval Patrick era on Beacon Hill is over.
Patrick is an idealist and an inspiring man; but he has had less success managing state services. There is often confusion on Beacon Hill between Governor and the legislature. That will now change. Baker is the most precise of men and as committed to reform as Patrick has been to inspiration. The moment now belongs to “Charlie.”
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere